I am a Certified  Child Life Specialist and a recovered pediatric cancer patient. I was once working with a child who had suffered a head injury and was in a  coma.  For several weeks he was seemingly unresponsive to all attempts to communicate with him. 

Despite his state of consciousness, I felt very strongly that he should be positioned in a wheelchair every day and brought into our activity room at the hospital.  I read him stories, did manipulative play with his hands (running them through sand, squishing play doh through them, doing finger painting, etc).  I insisted on providing him with music and talking to him.  He never responded. 

One day, a nurse was wheeling him down the hall by me, and as always, I greeted him warmly. About 2 minutes later, I heard him, actually heard him say, "Hi Sam" (my nickname).  Not only did he respond for the veryfirst time, he knew me by name! I could barely stand the excitement!!! He began talking after that, and we discovered that he knew many of the health care workers by name. 

Soon thereafter, we were in the activity room again, and a song came on the radio; a song that had just hit the scene and was newly popular (so he would not have known it before his injury).  He knew every word of that song! 

Please believe that when kids are down, even when you think they can't hear you or are not registering what you are saying... talk to them, tell them you love them.  Describe the world to them.  Touch them and hug them.  They may very well hear you and may be retaining at least some of what they are learning from your words, your songs, and your touch.. 

It is so rare to have the opportunity to know for sure that your efforts in engaging an unresponsive child are doing some good. What a gift I was given!

I have always believed that the kids could hear me, and that they were absorbing my words and actions, but wow... having him confirm my beliefs was life altering!!! 


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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: October 18, 2005